Centuries-Old Dialect Unique to America Is Dying Out

'New York Times' explains the long history of New Mexico Spanish
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2023 11:10 AM CDT
Centuries-Old Dialect Unique to US Is Dying Out
The entrance to one of New Mexico's newer national monuments near Questa, New Mexico.   (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Somewhere around 400 years ago, a distinct language dialect emerged among the settlers of what is now northern Mexico. This "New Mexico Spanish," as it is now known, exists to this day—and nowhere else on earth, writes Simon Romero in the New York Times. The dialect remained in place when the US claimed New Mexico in 1848, which makes it "the oldest continuously transmitted variety of Spanish in the country," writes Romero. But his story isn't so much a celebration of the language as an acknowledgement that its days are numbered. Romero visits a small coffee shop in Questa, where the locals are fluent, but it's getting harder and harder to find such places. Plus, those speaking the language tend to be in their 50s and older, and younger people aren't much interested.

“Our unique Spanish is at real risk of dying out,” says 68-year-old Cynthia Rael-Vigil. “Once a treasure like this is lost, I don’t think we realize, it’s lost forever.” A linguistics professor at New Mexico State University estimates that New Mexico Spanish will survive another 20 years or so before it no longer can be considered a distinct dialect. Part of the reason is the influx of new immigrants from Mexico. "It's just being replaced with a different kind of Spanish," says Mark Waltermire. The story includes an audio clip of the "melodic" dialect, and Romero explains some of the distinctions. "Speakers conjugate creatively, employing unusual verb endings, and tend to aspirate the 's' sound in many words, making it similar to the 'h' in English (or the 'j' in Spanish)." Read the full story, which details some of the efforts being made to preserve the dialect. (More language stories.)

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